During the week of Superpod4, we received word that all members of the critically endangered Southern Resident orca community – including the four new calves – are accounted for in their inland summer habitat this year. The return of the orcas to the area known as the Salish Sea every summer allows a complete census of the population each year. If an orca isn’t seen with their family by July 1st, they are considered missing; if they are not seen all summer, the worst case scenario is assumed and the individual is presumed dead. Last year, two members of L pod had not been seen by the census deadline, and two other Southern Resident orcas died in the fall, dropping the tiny population down to just 77 members.
This year, however, all members have been seen, albeit in very different and abnormal groupings than usual. This makes it hard for researchers to know who they are seeing without ID’ing each individual orca. Since the Southern Residents typically travel in family groups with other pod members, a sighting of one member means you are likely seeing them with their close family. This year, the orcas are showing up in random groupings, both between and among pods – why this is happening and what it means for their future remains unknown. For now, we’re just glad that all the Southern Residents have been seen this year. With the four new babies, the wild population now totals 81 members. The 82nd member, Lolita, is the lone surviving Southern Resident in captivity, and was officially given the same endangered species status as her family earlier this year.